Fredericks present on Whalen Canyon Settlement

Cynthia Sheeley/Torrington Telegram Chuck Frederick sharing his and his brother’s presentation on the Whalen Canyon Settlement.

HARTVILLE – The Hartville Episcopal Parish Hall was packed with almost 80 people on Oct. 27, for Chuck and Doug Frederick’s presentation on the Whalen Canyon Settlement. The presentation consisted of the Frederick’s family history and their influence in the area.

The Whalen Canyon Settlement presentation was arranged by the Sunrise Historic and Prehistoric Preservation Society (SHAPPS).

“Thank you all for coming,” Chuck began. “The information this evening is going to be from a few different sources. A lot of it is from our folks and their history when they grew up, from the town hall that they put together, centennial, and the network.”


Where the story begins

Charles “Pep” Frederick was born in Germany in 1852. At the age of 20, he came to America by himself, where he settled in Pennsylvania and worked in the gold mines. Later he worked for the lumber mills in Illinois, before enlisting in the US Army.

Wilhelmina “Minnie” Wilkie was born in Germany in 1860. As a child, she came to America with her parents and settled in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In the army, Pep traveled to many forts around the mid-west. When he was stationed in Minnesota he met and later married Minnie.

“On their wedding day, following the ceremony, Pep reached into his pocket to get some money to pay the minister but didn’t have any,” Chuck said. “So, he turned to his new bride and asked if she had some.” 

After the wedding, Pep was sent to Fort Laramie because of Indian trouble in the Wyoming territory. While in the area, he spotted an acreage that he liked to the north, in what is now called Whalen Canyon.

Soon, he constructed a little log cabin and sent for his wife and their infant daughter Helena “Elena” to join him. Minnie and Elena came by train and stagecoach to Fort Laramie. A soldier from the fort then met them with a team of donkeys and brought them the rest of the way to the ranch.

When they pulled up to the cabin with the dirt floor and roof, Minnie was not impressed.

“Minnie was so upset she wrote a letter to her brother in Minnesota,” Chuck said. “Asking for money to get her back to Minnesota. She gave the letter to Pep to mail, but he never sent it.”

Minnie remained in the Wyoming territory and was an essential influence on the settlement of the area.

“I’d like to verbalize, (later) it would have been impossible to drive her out of the little grey home in the west,” Chuck commented.


The Frederick children

In addition to Elena, Charles and Minnie had three sons and another daughter, Henry, Charles, George, and Ruth.

“Growing up on the Frederick Ranch was not always easy for the children,” Chuck explained. “Henry, Charlie and George were put out on the roundup when they were barely old enough to climb on a horse.”

At young ages, the children helped with chores and ranch duties and stayed home alone unafraid.

“There was an incident where the kids were left by themselves, and there were still Indians in the area,” Doug added. “Grandma (Minnie) always told them if you see any Indians hide. So, when everyone came home, they couldn’t find the boys. They were hiding under the hay in the hay mound in the bar, underneath the hay, to stay away from the Indians because they were somewhere in the neighborhood.”

One time, in the early 1900s a bandit came to their house when the men were away. The man informed Minnie that he had never harmed a woman or child, and no harm would come to them if she fed him and took good care of his horse. The man was true to his word, stayed for three or four days, and then went on his way.

“Ruth grew up on the ranch and has ridden a horse ever since she was so small that she had to bring her horse up by the house and climb up on the windowsill to get on,” Chuck continued. “In her teens, Ruth would milk 21 cows in the morning before she left to go out on the prairie, not eat anything all day. Then come home, milk the 21 cows again and then have supper.”

Many of the children married and raised their own families on the ranch. Helena married William Blake in 1902. Henry married Stella Trump in 1912. Charles married Estella Butdorf in 1960.

All of the children settled in the area and continued living on the ranch. Ruth even formed an orchestra and played all over the area for dances.


Frederick developments

Pep wasn’t a rancher by desire, so Minnie was the one to call the shots in running the ranch. Instead, Pep was more interested in mining, education and government.

Pep was responsible for many of the prospecting holes in Whalen Canyon, and owned 11 claims in the area that later became the Sunrise mine. Minnie also owned several claims in the vicinity of the Chicago mine.

Some of these claims were sold to CA Guernsey, the name-sake of the town, who later sold them to Bethlehem Steel.

Pep served on the school board for many years and in 1910 was a member of the Wyoming State Legislature. He was on the committee that helped design the flag for the state of Wyoming. He also introduced the bill to divide Laramie County into three separate counties, Platte, Goshen, and Laramie.

“When Pep sat down to write the letter, the dictionary sat on the table beside him,” Chuck said. “It may have taken four days to write the letter, but every word was spelled correctly and in beautiful script.”

The Frederick Wyoming post office was established on May 15, 1894, with Minnie as its first postmaster. At first, the post office was located in her home until the post office/dancehall structure was built in the early 1900s.

Minnie held the position until she was forced to resign because of an injury to her spine, which in later years confined her to a wheelchair. Pep then took over the position until the office closed in 1923. After the closure, those in the community had to travel to Sunrise to get their mail.

The rest of the post office building was a large dancehall named the Frederick Dancehall. People would come from miles around for the Saturday night dances that were held there. It was common for everyone to dance all night long and then stay for the breakfast that Minnie and the girls would make in the morning.

The dancehall also held lunchbox auctions, where gentlemen would bid for the right to eat with the lady who brought the box.

“Stella always remembered that when Henry was courting her, she took a box and decorated it with yellow paper roses,” Chuck said. “Henry's friends ran the bid up, so he had to pay dearly to have supper with his sweetheart.”

“At gathering like this, parents would bring their little children with them, some were still in bassinets and little carriers,” Doug recalled. “Our dad (Henry’s son Chester) said, one night a couple of boys got a little tipsy and they switched a couple of the babies around. People left not knowing, then got home and realized it."


Homestead growth

The Frederick Ranch began with Pep’s original homestead. Over the years, Pep and Minnie, and their children purchased most of the homesteads and pastures around them. By this time the ranch had grown to 48,000 total acres, 75 square miles.

The Frederick family owned the original Frederick Ranch, the 4J, Hell Gap, the Brownry place, the Wildcat, and the Peterson place all in the Whalen Canyon.

The family ranched together as one unit for many years. Until 1917, when the family pastured cattle in South Dakota during a bad winter. The ranch lost 1,400 head of cattle when a storm drove them into the White River where they froze to death.

After this misfortune, Henry decided to start his own operation in a different area.

This left Pep and Minnie, Charlie, George, and Ruth on the property in Whalen Canyon.

Pep passed away in 1933, George in 1937, and Minnie in 1950. This left Ruth, Charlie, and Charlie’s sons, Bill and Bob, ranching in the area.

Eventually, some of the lands were sold to the Wyoming Nation Guard and in 1988, the 230 acres known as Hell Gap was sold to the Wyoming Archaeological Foundation.


Hell Gap

The Wyoming Archaeological Foundation purchased Hell Gap to preserve Indian artifacts that had been found in the area, dating as far back as 12,000 years.

“According to Archeologist George Zeimens of Lingle, also a foundation member, ‘The Hell Gap was once a campsite used by Indians for thousands of years, probably as recently as the last century. The Hell Gap campsite provided water, shelter, vegetation for fuel and food, and access to game on the nearby prairies. The hills were rich with stones, used for tools, and red iron ore, used usually for ceremonial purposes.’” Chuck said.

This site is one of the most significant sites in North America because of how well the artifacts have been preserved in the canyon. By securing this site, the Wyoming Archaeological Foundation can preserve it, study its data, and save it for future generations.

It is estimated that Minnie Frederick purchased the Hell Gap property around the turn of the century because of its proximity to the original family property.

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